Readings – Blessings

“It is forbidden to taste of the pleasures of this world without a blessing.” The Talmud

“When we bless others, we offer them refuge from an indifferent world.” Rachel Naomi Remen

If you go online to sites like Instagram or Twitter and search for the hashtag “blessed” (hashtag is sort of like adding a keyword to something), [you’ll see] people, especially celebrities, will post something that is essentially bragging and add #blessed to attempt to make the post sound humble. Celebrity photos of the red carpet, huge diamond rings, champagne, and extravagant travel, all are apparently signs that the recipient is #blessed.
Lots of people use the hashtag in a mocking or ironic way, like the person who tweeted: “Caught a piece of bacon falling out of my sandwich right before it hit the ground.”  #blessed
It’s funny, but all these #blessed blessings suck all the real energy and power from the concept of feeling blessed—of soul-deep gratitude. Real honest gratitude is never smug or braggy. A blessing is richer than wealth and tastier than bacon.
Additionally, those social media posts on Instagram and Twitter only show a self-curated image. #blessed is a manic, “Jazz hands!” kind of happiness. Everyone is smiling and has great hair. A #blessed life apparently never includes pain or loss, or even mild discord or inconvenience.
But of course we know that kind of life is impossible. I think a truly blessed life comes from:living with integrity; loving your work, most of the time; loving the people around you, most of the time; and loving yourself, most of the time.
Rev. Claire Feingold Thoryn

Soul drunk, body ruined, these two
sit helpless in a wrecked wagon.
Neither knows how to fix it.

And my heart, I’d say it was more
like a donkey sunk in a mudhole,
struggling and miring deeper.

But listen to me: for one moment,
quit being sad. Hear blessings
dropping their blossoms
around you. God.
Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks

Despite all the darkness, human hope is based on the instinct that at the deepest level of reality some intimate kindness holds sway. This is the heart of blessing. To believe in blessing is to believe that our being here, our very presence in the world is the first gift; the primal blessing.
John O’Donohue, from To Bless the Space Between Us

I think that the best way to discover what pronouncing blessings is all about is to pronounce a few. The practice itself will teach you what you need to know.
Start with anything you like. Even a stick lying on the ground will do. The first thing to do is to pay attention to it. […] The more aware you become, the more blessings you will find.
If you look at the stick long enough, you are bound to begin making it a character in your own story. It will begin to remind you of someone you know, or a piece of furniture you once saw in a craft co-op. There is nothing wrong with these associations, except that they take you away from the stick and back to yourself. To pronounce a blessing on something, it is important to see it as it is. What purpose did this stick serve? Did a bird sit on it? Did it bear leaves that sheltered the ground from the hottest summer sun?
At the very least, it participated in the deep mystery of drawing water from the ground, defying the law of gravity to deliver moisture to its leaves. How does a stick do that, especially one this size? Smell it. Is the scent of sap still there? This is no less than the artery of a tree that you are holding in your hand. Its tissue has come from the sun and from the earth. Put it back where you found it and it will turn back into earth again. Dust to dust and ashes to ashes. Will you say a blessing first? No one can hear you, so you may say whatever you like. […]
As I said earlier, the practice itself will teach you what you need to know. Start throwing blessings around and chances are you will start noticing all kinds of things you never noticed before.
The next time you are at the airport, try blessing the people sitting at the departure gate with you. Every one of them is dealing with something significant. See that mother trying to contain her explosive two-year-old? See that pock-faced boy with the huge belly? Even if you cannot know for sure what is going on with them, you can still give a care. They are on their way somewhere, the same way you are. They are between places too, with no more certainty than you about what will happen at the other end. Pronounce a silent blessing and pay attention to what happens in the air between you and that other person, all those other people.[…]
All I am saying is that anyone can do this. Anyone can ask and anyone can bless, whether anyone has authorized you to do it or not. All I am saying is that the world needs you to do this, because there is a real shortage of people willing to kneel wherever they are and recognize the holiness holding its sometimes bony, often tender, always life-giving hand above their heads. That we are able to bless one another at all is evidence that we have been blessed, whether we can remember when or not. That we are willing to bless one another is miracle enough to stagger the very stars.
Barbara Brown Taylor from An Altar in the World

A blessing is not the function of a particular role. It is the natural expression of the fiery love and inclusiveness of our inner spirit. It is the manifestation of a soulfire, and each of us can be its hearth. To bless us is not the prerogative only of ministers, priests, and rabbis; it is not the exclusive domain of saints and holy people. It is a natural human ability, and anyone can do it.
David Spangler

We bless the life around us far more than we realize. Many simple, ordinary things that we do can affect those around us in profound ways: the unexpected phone call, the brief touch, the willingness to listen generously, the warm smile or wink of recognition. We can even bless total strangers and be blessed by them. Big messages come in small packages. All it may take to restore someone’s trust in life may be returning a lost earring or a dropped glove…The capacity to bless life is in everybody. The power of our blessing is not diminished by illness or age. On the contrary, our blessings become even more powerful as we grow older. They have survived the buffeting of our experience. We may have traveled a long, hard road to the place where we can remember once again who we are. That we have traveled and remembered gives hope to those we bless. Perhaps in time they too can remember this place beyond competition and struggle, this place where we belong to one another… I first learned to do this from people who were dying, people who had moved into a more authentic relationship with those around them because only that which is genuine still had meaning for them. These people had let go of the ways in which they had changed themselves to win approval, and so they made it safe for others to remove their masks as well.
Rachel Naomi Remen

Nourish beginnings, let us nourish beginnings.
Not all things are blessed,
but the seeds of all things are blessed.
The blessing is in the seed.
Muriel Rukeyser

A blessing can… refer to any part of our life which is good and which we think of as a gift, which we might have worked for but which we don’t imagine that we deserve. When we count our blessings, we deliberately adopt a positive mindset, recalling what we usually take for granted: the people in our lives who care about us, our health, our material wealth, our joy in using our talents, our sense that we are supposed to be doing what we are doing (our vocation or calling), even the gift of life itself. This not only helps our rational mind put our current troubles in perspective, it helps our intuitive mind say, “It’s going to be okay, I can handle this” – both sides of the exercise are useful as we move through difficulty.
The spiritual path of counting our blessings is honoured widely in the world’s faiths. Gratitude is a reality check: in fact, nothing we could ever accomplish earns us the gift of life. A practice of gratitude reminds us to be humble. The upwelling of gratitude is a very pleasant feeling to most people, and it is ours, whatever our theology.
Rev. Christine Robinson

But the discipline of blessings is to taste
each moment, the bitter, the sour, the sweet
and the salty, and be glad for what does not
hurt. The art is in compressing attention
to each little and big blossom of the tree
of life, to let the tongue sing each fruit,
its savor, its aroma and its use.
Marge Piercy

Each week in worship [in some way], I recognize and honor our “tangled blessing,” that is, the way that life tends to arrive not distinctly as joy, or grief, but rather all mixed up.  So often people tell me about the ways that in the midst of their cancer treatments, they knew love and community better than they’d ever known their whole life.  Or, how their love for their new baby is mixed with grief for their loved one who has died and won’t be able to meet that child.
In my own life, I know this truth all too well: my children are adopted from foster care, which means that one mother’s worst day became another mother’s — that is, my — best day. …I think that somehow, amazingly, the greatest blessing can come in the midst of the most terrible loss. It doesn’t justify the pain or make it ok. It simply makes joy also possible, love also possible.  And sometimes our task is simply to be awake and with a grateful heart to see the also-true story of the good in the midst of this grief — the blessing in the midst of suffering.
Rev. Gretchen Haley

I part the out thrusting branches
and come in beneath
the blessed and the blessing trees.
Though I am silent
there is singing around me.
Though I am dark
there is vision around me.
Though I am heavy
there is flight around me.
Wendell Berry

We’re asked a dozen times a day, “How are you?” Most of the time it’s not a real question and doesn’t invite a genuine answer. It’s more like an alternative “hello,” and we’re well-trained in the ritual response: “Fine, thanks.”
But every once in a while we are asked this question when things are really not fine at all. At those times—when we’re walking around in a little bubble of anxiety or sorrow—something inside us can suddenly balk at giving out the standard, meaningless answer. We are too hungry for an authentic word, too raw to pretend that things are okay.
The morning after my father died, following three days and nights of an around-the-clock vigil with my siblings, I had to go to the grocery store to buy a few things for dinner. When I arrived at the check-out counter and the clerk distractedly said, “How are you?” my brain went blank. I couldn’t say “fine,” or even “okay.” I wasn’t okay. I wasn’t even in my right mind. I was numb, sleep-deprived, and saturated with the mystery of our mortality. That’s the only explanation I have, because to my horror I found myself blurting out a real and honest answer. “I’m not so good,” I said. “My Dad died last night.”
With his hands filled with the apples, chicken, and bread, the poor clerk turned red and started to stammer. The people behind me looked longingly at the check-out lines they should have chosen, the ones that would not have placed them in earshot of the too-much-information lady. I was mortified at having revealed to an unprepared stranger just how not-fine I was. Everyone froze in this moment of uncomfortable paralysis—except the young man bagging the groceries, who had Down syndrome. He stopped moving completely, looked straight at me, and with a little slur and great emphasis said,
“I bet you feel really sad about that.”
The simplicity of that little expression of kindness and solidarity allowed both the clerk and me to escape. “Yes, I do. Thank you,” I said to him, and then I was able to walk out with my groceries and not feel quite so much as though I had just undressed in public. I thought about that encounter for a long time. The young man bagging groceries would be considered disabled, in thought, speech, and movement. Yet he was the only one able to offer what counted in that particular moment: He knew how to give a blessing.
Rev. Kathleen McTigue, from Shine and Shadow: Meditations

“To bless is to put a bit of yourself into something.” Macrina Wiederkehr and Joyce Rupp

“Reflect upon your present blessings – of which every person has many – not on your past misfortunes, of which all people have some.” Charles Dickens

Longer Reads

A Humanist’s Guide to Prayer from UU World.

This article from the UU World  invites Unitarian Universalism to “risk blessing”.

In a blog post, artist Terri Wilding explores essayist Scott Russell Sanders‘ desire to connect with the world through a sense of blessing.


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